Television is full of series that haven’t had the same sort of evergreen appeal of, let’s say, Star Trek or Gilligan’s Island, but they may have been quite popular in their day, popular enough have kept them in reruns for a decade or so after their run ended. Because they never quite achieved enough pop-culture critical mass they’ve only had spotty airings since then, maybe not even making it on TV Land. But now in the era of Me-TV and CoziTV, they’re starting to pop up again.
I wound up DVRing The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman with the intent of really refreshing my memory of these since it was quite spotty. The quality of both of these shows is wildly uneven. Also, you have to really get back into a 1970s mindset to enjoy them, because they are definitely a product of their time.
While this post isn’t meant to review either of these in detail, I wanted to steer you towards a single scene that’s on Youtube (when we get to the end). It’s worth watching.
You see, both of these shows, being as uneven as they were, were mostly written in a formulaic way, so much so that occasionally a script for Six Million Dollar Man would be converted or recycled for Bionic Woman. Both of these were for the most part cold-war espionage procedurals. And you could expect various undercover missions and some degree of double-agent betrayals with OSI insiders secretly working for the Russians.
Once you look beyond the “another day at the office” routine of one mission after another, lather, rinse, and repeat, what exactly is there left to grab hold of?
Well, at least with Bionic Woman, a paternal bond developed between Oscar Goldman and Jaime (yes, that’s how her name should be spelled). From a modern perspective, it feels a little sexist how Oscar coddles her, and it would be if you were thinking purely in terms of it being a job, but this isn’t a documentary, it’s a TV series.
In a television series, unless it’s something like Game of Thrones with its cavalcade of murders and rapes, the principles often eventually begin to function like a family. It doesn’t have to be a literal family. You can think of it more as a clique or a tribe. But it is a group that develops a strong personal bond. It might start out dry and by-the-book, but by the show’s ending, they can get pretty close.
What also happens, with shows that click with viewers, the cast begins to feel like an extension of the viewer’s social circle as well. The familiarity of seeing the same people week after week begins to operate on that same social level. The audience is the silent participant at the table. This is how fandom develops and why fans often feel compelled to write fan-fiction, to start to steer their imaginary friends as they wish. It might seem a little creepy when you think about it, but that’s what suspension of disbelief is about. Even in adults, there’s an imaginary concept of who these characters are, as if they are real, that takes up residence in your head and stays there even when you’re not watching the show (hence me writing this blog post).
Anyway, originally the Oscar Goldman role was portrayed by Darren McGavin, and the character’s name was Oliver Spencer. When you look at this screenshot below, you’ll instantly know why this role was retooled:
Let’s be blunt shall we?
The Oliver Spencer character was a raging douchebag…
When Steve’s in the operating room after his accident, Spencer’s only concern is creating a living weapon to fight the Soviets. He’s so heartless that he might as well have been plucked out of Dr. Strangelove. Within the context of the pilot, they decided to create conflict between Steve and the OSI, with Steve feeling as though he had been made a human guinea-pig without his consent. As a standalone TV-movie, that made sense. When the show went to series, though, you could not leave Steve resentful or antagonistic like this.
Oscar started out as still quite a hard-ass at first, but eventually started loosening up and tossing in a few friendly one-liners with Steve. Things almost came to blows over Jaime’s accident when the plot-device intended to bring her back to life (after she was written as dead) demanded that the OSI conspire to hide the fact she was still alive. So Oscar and Steve were always two alpha males liable to lock-horns.
Once you get to Jaime, the OSI saved her life. Her brush with death was much closer than Steve’s, brought back through a convoluted set of techno-babble that wound up tragically burying the memory of her love-affair with Steve in the process.
The original premise of the Bionic Woman had her split her time between being a school-teacher and a secret-agent. Therefore the show had a level of everyday domesticity that was absent from The Six Million Dollar Man. Even after the school-teacher angle was pushed to the side, they still often showed Jaime relaxing at home (later with the addition of Max, the Bionic Dog no less!) Often Oscar would visit for what was billed as a purely social get together, only for her to be given an assignment at the end.
As the series progressed, in one fateful encounter, Jaime has a very close call with death, managing to escape from an explosion just in time. Even though this sort of nick-of-time escape was fairly common, the scene ends with Jaime and Oscar hugging each other with Oscar on the verge of breaking out in tears in relief that he didn’t lose her.
Then we come to the final episode of the series, On The Run. The setup is very similar to The Prisoner. Jaime is burnt out and wants to retire from the spy business. The powers that be above Oscar Goldman (yes, even he apparently has a superior) respond by seeing her wanting out as a grave national security threat. They want her to live in some sort of open prison (ala The Prisoner) and be under constant watch.
Now, just as I was writing this post, someone uploaded the entire episode. Unfortunately, they screwed with the picture to try to circumvent Youtube’s copyright blocking (and maybe the audio/playback) but the entire scene I want to share will start playing back if you hit play below. Once you get to Oscar’s final monologue, though, you may want to switch off to the other embed, which is much better quality.
I have one last thought to make about this scene. This guy who opposes Oscar, who can’t even get Jaime’s name straight, for all intents and purposes, he represents Oliver Spencer! The show comes around full-circle to remind us that it grew a heart and soul.